“In almost all places, congestion got better,” said Rebecca Brewster, President of the American Transportation Research Institute, regarding the easier travel for truck shipments with pandemic-induced road clearances. “In terms of just how painful the congestion [was] for the industry, 2020 was a better year in terms of the bottlenecks.”
Still, although traffic did lighten up due to fewer people being on the roads during the nation’s stay-at-home orders, infrastructure issues have continued to be an obstacle for truck drivers. A majority of truck speeds throughout the 100 worst road sections saw an improvement rate of around 34% throughout 2020, up from 2019, according to ATRI’s 2021 Top Truck Bottlenecks list. The worst section in the country, that of interstate-95 and New Jersey State Route 4’s intersection in Fort Lee, New Jersey, did not see any changes.
For the third year in a row, this area continued to be the nation’s most congested highway stretch, but did see a peak traffic speed increase to an average of 31.3 mph, up 39.4% from 2019.
Ranked second (up from eighth place in 2019) was the Cincinnati interchange at interstate-71 and interstate-75, which is located near the Ohio River and feeds into the busy Brent Spence Bridge, connecting Cincinnati with Northern Kentucky. In November 2020, this bridge was closed due damage caused by a truck fire, and will have traffic reduced through November 2021 while repainting and repairs are underway.
Ranking third and fourth are two Atlanta intersections–those of the “Spaghetti Junction” at interstate-285 and interstate-85 North in DeKalb County, which had an average peak speed rise by 53.5% in 2020, up to 34.4 mph, and the location of interstate-20 and interstate-285 West in Fulton County. This region, located on the east side of Atlanta, houses a UPS Inc. distribution center and many other trucking companies, and saw an average speed boost of 12.6%, up to 40.9 mph.
Dropping one spot to fifth place in interstate-45/interstate-69/interstate-59 in Houston, which is currently undergoing a rerouting and reconstruction plan working to widen much of interstate-45. Following one spot behind is interstate-290/interstate/90/interstate-94 in Chicago, also known as the Jane Byrne Interchange, which is also currently undergoing renovations, and saw peak speed boosts of 57.6%, up to 28.8 mph.
Illinois and Texas are both working on many road rebuilding and renovation projects, and a multi-trillion dollar bill may soon come into play to revamp more infrastructure across the country.
“For years, ATA has been sounding the alarm about how the condition of our highways is contributing to congestion, which slows down commerce, contributes to pollution and reduces safety,” said President oF ATA, Chris Spear. “ATRI’s bottleneck report highlights where our most critical issues are, and should be a guide for policymakers at the state and federal [levels].”
Also making the list (and jumping from 32nd to 7th place) was interstate-75 and interstate-24’s intersection in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is under a major construction project that the state’s DOT hopes to have finished by summer 2021. Following behind was St. Louis’ interstate-64 and interstate-55 stretch along the Mississippi River, which has also been seeing many construction delays; the interchange in Rye, New York at interstate-95 and interstate-284, which is also currently in the middle of a major rebuilding project; and San Bernardino, California’s interstate-10 and interstate-15 intersection near Ontario International Airport. This area experienced major freight volume boosts due to the exponential increase in e-commerce during 2020.
ATRI hopes infrastructure upgrades will help the congestion declines we saw throughout 2020 continue on, according to ATRI’s Brewster. “These are a lot of the same locations, year after year, even with car drivers staying home,” he noted.
These challenges that have remained even while fewer drivers are on the roads shows the dedication of the nation’s truck drivers, said Hugh Ekberg, CEO of CRST The Transportation Solution.
“While everyone else is sheltered in place in 2020, trucks keep rolling, delivering essential goods to communities,” he said in ATRI’s news release.